bats

The new licensing system for bats

Wildlife Legislation

As you all know, a range of species in England are protected by law; sometimes this is in the form of national Acts of Parliament and other times European Union wide regulations. Either way, dealing with them and advising upon them is the remit of Natural England (NE). One of NE’s roles is to regulate licenses for the purposes of development that will mitigate and reduce the impact on protected species such as the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), the badger (Meles meles), the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and bats (of the Chiroptera order). Though the badger is protected only by The Protection of Badgers Act of 1992 which does not have a European equivalent as this Act relates only to preventing blood-sport rather than conservation measures, the great crested newt and bats are covered by The Conservation Regulations of 1994, an EU wide piece of legislation; the new licensing system relates only to European Protected Species (EPS).

Development Mitigation Measures

For a development to remain legal, it has to put in place measures to mitigate for its impact on these species and this usually entails relocating them to a suitable location; each development requires a license for this as well as a licensed ecologist to carry out the work. To get this license, an application is required by NE and when additional information is needed this is requested via a Further Information Request (FIR). The downside of these requests is that they are required even for minor adjustments and that they take time (and time equals money!); last year this system was changed by NE for developments applying for great crested newt licenses to incorporate ‘annex’ licensing.

What Are ‘Annex’ Licenses?

The annex licensing system means that for any additionally required minor information and adjustments of license applications the wildlife advisors of NE can simply phone or email the developer or contracted ecologist (or any third party named by the developer or contracted ecologist); this cuts out the need for many FIR’s and in an 11 month period last year the need for 160 FIR’s for great crested newt applications was avoided. However, poor quality license applications still require the more formal FIR route as the additional information required is likely substantial.

But What About Bats?

As bats are covered under annexes II and IV of The Conservation Regulations of 1994, the changes to EPS licensing are set to apply to them this year. As there are 18 bat species in the UK, the greatest volume of FIR’s are generated by bat license applications, so the annex system should speed up the process. The new annex system was implemented for bats at the end of March 2014 and after the 1st of May 2014 the previous licensing system will become redundant; applications that use the former system will be returned to the sender. As of May 2014 this change will also apply to the hazel dormouse which is protected under appendix III of the Bonn Convention.

Hedgehog Street

Introducing Reaseheath Mammal Society

Reaseheath Mammal Society was created properly in January, though I’d had the idea for at least a couple of months before that after reading of other ecological recording groups set up by students. As mammals are my main interest it was an obvious choice to focus on them although that’s not to say that the sightings of other species are not ignored; when birds are caught on the trail cameras or when amphibians stroll through the footprint tunnels, details are submitted to the environmental record centre for Cheshire, rECOrd.

Hedgehog Street The focus is on acquiring records for this centre as the data will contribute to published local and perhaps even national mammal atlases; Cheshire Mammal Group relied on rECOrd for their 2008 ‘Mammals of Cheshire’ publication and are working on an update. Certain records are also submitted for the purpose of national projects like the Hedgehog Street campaign jointly organised by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).

So on to what we have found! To date, footprint tunnels have been used in multiple locations and woodmice, weasels and either frog or toad prints were found. Longworths have been used at separate sites, finding woodmice and bank voles and trailcams have shown a number of other species such as badgers, otters and tawny owls. Field sightings of course have their place too and a range of rabbit warrens have been mapped out, footprints of the red fox discovered in the sandbanks of streams and endangered hedgehogs seen in numerous places. Bat detector surveys have presented at least 6 of the 10 (or possibly 12) bat species of Cheshire just above Reaseheath lake, with a couple of species above the ponds, too; they emerged in spring to feed on recently emerged insects such as mayflies.

Bank Vole in Little Eel Cage

Bank Vole in Little Eel Cage

I’ll finish off the introduction to Reaseheath Mammal Society with a few interesting facts about the fascinating mammals living alongside us; the woodmouse, one of three native mice, was previously believed to be one and the same with its two relatives the yellow-necked mouse and the harvest mouse. It’s only a relatively recent discovery that they are in fact distinct species. Secondly, the badger, a species of the Mustelidae family, bucks the trend shown by its solitary relatives (i.e. weasels and otters) and instead opts to live in groups known as clans, although in some situations it does revert to solitude. Noctules have been heard above the lake with heterodyne bat detectors, with distinctive ‘chip-chop’ calls coming through at 25khz; this bat is the largest in the UK, although it still only weighs 40g at most with a range of 19 – 40g.

If you read this and want to get involved at all, visit our Facebook page. Information on joining the group is included on the page (see ‘About’).

By Jack Riggall, Level 3 Conservation and Wildlife Management student

Blog 2

Cannock Chase

Students studying game management and countryside and recreation management at Reaseheath College have spent quite a bit of time on Cannock Chase recently watching the fallow deer during their rut (breeding season). They have been able to practice their ‘stalking’ and have taken some excellent pictures.

 

A doe through the trees

A melanistic (meaning darkly coloured) fallow doe

Group of deer running through the heather

A group of deer including one rather large mature buck (furthest to the left) moving through the heather at speed

They have also looked at some of the indirect signs of deer presence incluging this tell tale sign, this stem (below) has been roughly bitten off. Deer do not have two opposing sets of incisors like humans instead their lower incisors bite against a gristly pad in their upper jaw leaving this rough bite rather than the cleanly bitten shoots left by rabbits and hares which have two opposing sets of incisors.

Roughly bitten stem

Roughly bitten stem

A group of adult does with younger ones

A group of adult does, with some younger ones (born earlier this year) in tow.

A collection of their recent photographs can be seen here; https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/101669561315313801309/albums/6069948302855915009

hedgehog

Hedgehog Streets in Nantwich

The hedgehog is a wild mammal that needs little introduction; there is nothing else even remotely like it in the country, although on the European mainland it has to be referred to as the western hedgehog to differentiate it from a relative in the same genus, the eastern hedgehog. Though it is a familiar neighbour to us all in the UK, it is becoming scarcer every day; it has in fact halved in numbers in the past 25 years. This decline rivals and even surpasses that of the endangered tiger.

However, we can make changes to our own habits that will encourage the hedgehog population. Hedgehog Street, a national campaign jointly organised by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, is always looking for voluntary Hedgehog Champions and with numerous hedgehogs around the college grounds it would be a positive move to sign up for the conservation of this species.

One purpose of this national project is to encourage neighbours to look at their gardens and ensure hedgehogs can come and go between them; this opens up a wider territory for the food (beetles, slugs and other creepy crawlies) that the hedgehog needs to eat each night. If you want further information on how to do this then please visit www.hedgehogstreet.org.

I’m also submitting any hedgehog records that people can share; any time you see them, whether it’s alive or the unfortunate victim of road kill, please let me know; I can be contacted via email at onthisrock@hotmail.co.uk. The records will go to rECOrd, the Cheshire environmental centre who collate species sightings for distribution maps, and from February to August next year to the national hedgehog survey operated by Hedgehog Street.

By Jack Riggall, Level 3 Conservation and Wildlife Management student

Grouse

The importance of heathland and controlled burning

A recent visit to Bickerton Hill with Reaseheath College, introduced me to some of the management techniques associated with heathland habitats.

They are specialist habitats of huge importance that support a great diversity of wildlife. The purpose of our trip was to try to locate and identify male adder species, Vipera berus, who are emerging before the breeding season at this time of year. Unfortunately, no snakes were found, but examples of other species which depend on this habitat were.

butterfly and lizard

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) and the Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

The two species found illustrates the biodiversity of the area, the peacock butterfly and the common lizard.

Heathland habitats also support a diverse number of plant species such as bilberry, heather and gorse. These plants are specifically adapted to survive low nutrient levels and periodic drought or prolonged water logging. This is of huge importance, because the range of plant species that grow in these areas support a large number of invertebrate, reptile and bird species.

Management of heath prevents the process of succession taking place. Silver Birch (Betula pendula) colonise these areas quickly. They are a fast growing pioneer species, and if left unmanaged, will eventually develop into woodland.

Management techniques include cutting, grazing and burning. All have their pros and cons, but burning of heath has the biggest impact on grouse.

Grouse depend on the new growth of heather as they feed on the new shoots, they also rely on the cover for protection from predators and for nesting sites.

It is important that the heather is burned to set regulations and on a cyclical system, usually between 8 – 25 year cycles. Drier ground is often burned more regularly than wet ground. If areas are left unburned for prolonged periods, succession will begin to take a hold, and mosses, lichens and even birch saplings will begin to colonise. This will prevent the new growth of heather, so it is important to manage the cycles accordingly.

One issue relating to this method of heathland control is having the numbers of people in place to carry out the work. It is generally accepted that there are only between fifteen to twenty five burning days each winter, and on average the fires must be completed within twenty days. That equates to eleven fires of an average of 0.4ha every day. Since it takes two able men with all the correct equipment, and ideal conditions, a single day to complete 6 fires, to complete the required area in the given time is a challenge to say the least!

Employing more people at very short notice is not easy, and this leads to a genuine issue. If the programme is not completed, large areas remain unburned, which leads to an increase in degenerate heather.

Burning of large areas of ground, visible from great distances may appear a drastic measure on the face of it to some, but providing the burn is controlled, is an excellent management tool to create greater biodiversity, and habitat for all types of flora and fauna. There is legislation in place to prevent burning at certain times of the year. It can only be carried out between October and April, with some exceptions depending on location.

A range of tools have been used and developed to complete the job. In years gone by keepers would use an instrument known as a ‘besom’. “These were brushes made from birch saplings and twigs with a covering of wire netting, the whole bound tightly with soft wire.” (Phillips, 2012.)

Today, the tools for the job need to be more efficient at completing the task. Anyone who is serious about burning heather will use light, strong and well designed kit, which do not break and will not melt or catch fire. This will not only ensure the job is completed to a high standard, but more importantly that it is done safely, and will result in the reduction of fires getting out of control.

Controlled burning

This technique is a skill, and should not be undertaken without relevant experience. Without this management technique, we wouldn’t have the numbers of grouse, or large areas of heathland that make up large parts of our country today. Careful consideration and planning must be undertaken before every burn. Weather, and special times of the year such as bird nesting, correct equipment, man power and fire breaks all need to be outlined prior to commencement of a job.

Heathland management by controlled burning has been practiced for many years, and providing it continues, will provide large areas of rich biodiversity, support large numbers of grouse and in turn allow large areas of game management to continue long into the future.

Grouse

by Richard Laurence, Conservation and Wildlife Management student 

Deer teeth

Judging a deers age by its teeth

There are six species of wild deer in the UK and many students currently studying game and wildlife management or countryside management at Reaseheath College will be involved with the management of these deer in their future careers.

They may be required to accurately age a deer to ensure that they are conforming to the appropriate management or cull plan.

Deer teeth

This is part of the collection of lower jaw bones from, mostly from Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) but the second from the top is from a year old roe (Capreolus capreolus) doe and the bottom fragment is from a muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) buck. The way to estimate the age of a deer is to look at the eruption of the teeth, discounting the incisors at the front of the jaw, most of which are missing in these photos, each lower jaw in an adult deer should have six teeth.

The rule is simple; if all the molars (the three rearmost teeth) are not erupted and the third premolar (the third tooth from the front) has three cusps the deer is juvenile.

A three cusped juvenile pre-molar

A three cusped juvenile pre-molar

A partially erupted molar, is this deer an adult?

A partially erupted molar, is this deer an adult?

As a guide roe deer should have all their adult teeth, i.e six teeth on each side of the lower jaw and a two cusped pre-molar by 13 months of age, Chinese water deer and muntjac mature slightly faster and should have all these teeth shortly before they are 12 months of age.

A full set of adult teeth, notice the third premolar only has two cusps and all molars are fully erupted.

A full set of adult teeth, notice the third premolar only has two cusps and all molars are fully erupted.

Trying to judge the age of adult teeth is harder, the wear and tear on the teeth gives an indication of age but this depends on a deers diet and local conditions.

Lightly worn teeth, notice the molar to the extreme right is not fully erupted (this is a juvenile deer).

Lightly worn teeth, notice the molar to the extreme right is not fully erupted (this is a juvenile deer).

Heavy wear on a full set of adult teeth. notice how the cusps of the teeth are almost completely worn away, this indicates that this deer was much more mature.

Heavy wear on a full set of adult teeth. Notice how the cusps of the teeth are almost completely worn away, this indicates that this deer was much more mature.

 

© Geoffrey Guy 2013 originally published at http://bushcrafteducation.blogspot.co.uk/

gkwt logo

Countryside Management students raise funds for Game Keepers Welfare Trust

Students on the Level 3 Diploma in Game and Wildlife Management as well as interested students from the Level 2 Countryside and Environment course attended a talk by Helen Benson of the Game Keepers Welfare Trust on the 22nd of January.

They heard about the work of the trust in supporting keepers, stalkers, ghillies and their families and are looking forward to taking part in a fundraiser in aid of the charity.

The students on the course have already discussed ideas for a clay pigeon shoot, a college game fair and many other ideas to raise money for the trust. They have high hopes of winning a trip abroad for a week’s work experience if they raise the most money of any group of gamekeeping students.

Red deer stag by student Dave Carr

An average day of a Level 3 Game Management student

Being a person with a very limited countryside background, both my friends and family believed it was an odd decision to choose this course. However, I believe it was the right thing to do.

From day one I have enjoyed each and every day of the course and it seems that everyone else has also done so. Each day (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) the group turn up at 9am. On most days we start off with a theory lesson and we are currently studying the various Game Species and their Ecology.

On Monday afternoons we take part in Practical Estate Skills. As part of this unite we have built a fence at the college orchard, done some hedge laying and are currently working on building pens for housing pheasants and partridges.

By Matthew Carter, Game Management student

Level 3 Game Management students